Starring: Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Running Time: 106 minutes
Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars
Watch Nazis raise a family. Watch Nazis play with their kids. Watch Nazis tend to their garden. Watch Nazis get short with their Jewish house servants. Watch Nazis plan a children’s party. Watch Nazis discuss their career paths in the war machine. “Zone of Interest” is a lot of watching Nazis do mundane things while the unthinkable genocide at Auschwitz takes place just over the hedges, over the fence, in the background, or just upstream from children horsing around. That’s “Zone of Interest” for 106 minutes, nothing less, and unfortunately, nothing more.
“Zone of Interest” is visually disgusting because the family, made up of Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedel), his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Huller), and their five children seem to live this simple life. The children are oblivious, even when they sift through prisoner possessions, to the atrocities happening next door. Of course, if the kids did know, could they fully comprehend the extent of what’s happening?
Rudolf and Hedwig know good and well about the insufferable cruelty and mass death. Rudolf is one of the architects, but he views this simply as his work duties. Hedwig knows of her husband’s work, and what’s happening, but she’s enjoying a somewhat extravagant life with a vast, adorable cottage to raise her family with an army of trembling servants constantly cleaning, cooking and washing. So, we have to ask, do Rudolf or Hedwig care?
As I stated, Rudolf appears to have the nature of Adolf Eichmann, simply doing his job and unfortunately, being damn good at it. We never get a vibe for his feelings on it all. It’s possible he’s simply doing it because that’s what society, his government, and his wife expect him to do. While this may be horrifying, the worst part is that Rudolf never seems to reflect or realize the Holocaust he’s perpetuating. Ultimately, this makes Hedwig worse because she is personified privilege. She lords over the servants with threats of sending them to the crematorium herself or upset that her idyllic perspective and life isn’t as lavish as it could be.
What are we supposed to take away from a film like “Zone of Interest? That evil isn’t necessarily evil, more than a mass number of individuals doing a horrific thing to serve their own self-interest, whether it’s career goals, enjoying the benefits of new life, or reaping benefits from chaos? Is it that this can happen again because family responsibilities can force the average worker to become a cog in a sociopathic machine? “Zone of Interest” is actually so banal in discussing the banality of evil, it fails to deliver anything meaningful or even lasting.
I wanted to like “Zone of Interest” because it was telling an untold story of the Holocaust. When the final solution is discussed, it’s always the major players, the big wigs and Hitler. Never is it discussed or talked about how often average people did horrible things in seemingly quaint areas. Years and years ago, I visited the concentration camp Dachau and the biggest impression left on me wasn’t the crematorium where countless bodies were burned, the showers where people spent their last minutes on Earth in terror or the vast dormitories used to store thousands of starving, hopeless humans. It was how this camp of misery and death sat nestled in such a picturesque town. Dachau was in operation for over a decade and I could only imagine the people at home nearby who eventually became used to this horrific sight and went about their day. That kind of horror and shock isn’t in “Zone of Interest.”